Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 24
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 24
 
remain chaste for the time being, but must also purge themselves from the taint of past sin. Hence four days after the men have started the women gather and confess to Grandfather Fire with what men they have been in love from childhood till now. They may not omit a single one, for if they did so the men would not find a single cactus. So to refresh their memories each one prepares a string with as many knots as she has had lovers. This she brings to the temple, and, standing before the fire, she mentions aloud all the men she has scored on her string, name after name. Having ended her confession, she throws the string into the fire, and when the god has consumed it in his pure flame, her sins are forgiven her and she departs in peace. From now on the women are averse even to letting men pass near them. The cactus-seekers themselves make in like manner a clean breast of all their frailties. For every peccadillo they tie a knot on a string, and after they have “talked to all the five winds” they deliver the rosary of their sins to the leader, who burns it in the fire.
  Many of the indigenous tribes of Sarawak are firmly persuaded that were the wives to commit adultery while their husbands are searching for camphor in the jungle, the camphor obtained by the men would evaporate. Husbands can discover, by certain knots in the tree, when the wives are unfaithful; and it is said that in former days many women were killed by jealous husbands on no better evidence than that of these knots. Further, the wives dare not touch a comb while their husbands are away collecting the camphor; for if they did so, the interstices between the fibres of the tree, instead of being filled with the precious crystals, would be empty like the spaces between the teeth of a comb. In the Kei Islands, to the southwest of New Guinea, as soon as a vessel that is about to sail for a distant port has been launched, the part of the beach on which it lay is covered as speedily as possible with palm branches, and becomes sacred. No one may thenceforth cross that spot till the ship comes home. To cross it sooner would cause the vessel to perish. Moreover, all the time that the voyage lasts three or four young girls, specially chosen for the duty, are supposed to remain in sympathetic connexion with the mariners and to contribute by their behaviour to the safety and success of the voyage. On no account, except for the most necessary purpose, may they quit the room that has been assigned to them. More than that, so long as the vessel is believed to be at sea they must remain absolutely motionless, crouched on their mats with their hands clasped between their knees. They may not turn their heads to the left or to the right or make any other movement whatsoever. If they did, it would cause the boat to pitch and toss; and they may not eat any sticky stuff, such as rice boiled in coco-nut milk, for the stickiness of the food would clog the passage of the boat through the water. When the sailors are supposed to have reached their destination, the strictness of these rules is somewhat relaxed; but during the whole time that the voyage lasts the girls are forbidden to eat fish which have sharp bones or stings, such

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